More than one in 10 women and girls in each of the UK’s four nations has experienced online violence, according to what researchers have described as the biggest survey into the issue.
The findings show the problem is “widespread”, those behind the large-scale survey said.
Almost a fifth (17%) of women and girls surveyed in both Scotland and Wales, 15% those in England and 12% in Northern Ireland, have experienced online violence, the research from the Open University suggested.
Online violence can include trolling, threats, abuse, unwanted sexual remarks and non-consensual sharing of intimate photos and messages.
The online YouGov survey of 7,500 people aged 16 and over – 4,000 women and girls and 3,500 men and boys – in February is the largest to have taken place in the UK on the issue, the researchers said.
It found that more than two thirds (68%) of people believe current legislation in England is ineffective at tackling the issue.
The most commonly perceived reasons for why people commit such online violence were the anonymity provided by being online (49%), ease of getting away with it (47%) and misogyny (43%).
The findings for England showed that the figure for women and girls experiencing online violence was higher for those aged 16-24 (25%) and for LGB+ women and girls (35%).
Researchers said their findings suggested men and boys (50%) in England were less likely than women and girls (69%) to support making online violence against women and girls a criminal offence.
Almost a fifth (19%) of men and boys were also more likely than women and girls (10%) to believe that legally prohibiting online violence would limit their freedom of expression.
There was a similar finding when it came to believing the Government is doing enough to address the issue – with 19% of men and boys strongly agreeing compared with 11% of women and girls.
Professor Olga Jurasz, who led the project, said: “This new research – the first ever to be conducted into OVAWG (online violence against women and girls) at this scale across the four nations – shows just how widespread the issue of OVAWG really is and will provide policy makers with a foundation to help reduce instances of OVAWG and to improve outcomes for those affected.”
Professor Lynne Gabriel, president of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), said: “The scale of their research project is welcomed, its findings less so. Online and digital platforms are virtually unregulated, and as these findings show there are individuals who cannot moderate their online behaviour.”
Prof Gabriel said the research would “provide valuable evidence for many, including counselling and mental health professionals, policy makers, educators, researchers and social media platforms who are looking to stop online violence against women and girls”.
A Government spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable that women and girls suffer disproportionately from abuse online and the Online Safety Bill takes important steps to address this.
“Social media platforms will be required to identify, report and take down online abuse promptly and effectively, including distressing crimes like so-called revenge pornography, or face huge fines.”